After a tasty dinner of enchilada pie packed with sliced zucchini, yellow squash and bison meat, two touring bicyclists — Elizabeth from Utah and Nancy from California — strolled from their campsite at Bryce Canyon National Park to the canyon rim for a peek at the sunset.
The tips of the canyon’s famed spires called hoodoos were illuminated as the pair carefully followed an 8,200-foot-high path for inspiring views of the national park.
Elizabeth and Nancy enjoyed the day-end visual spectacle as touring road bicyclists with Escape Adventures, a Las Vegas-based company that has taken guests for mountain bike and road bicycle tours in places from the Tetons to the Grand Canyon to Oregon’s Pacific Coast for the past 22 years. Escape Adventures stages 40 to 70 tours throughout the West every year, ranging in price from $795 to $2,500. Custom tours can be tailored to customers’ requests.
Jared Fisher of Blue Diamond, who owns bicycle stores in Las Vegas and Moab, Utah, launched Escape Adventures more than two decades ago. For this bicycle tour in mid-June, Fisher used his vast knowledge of Southern Utah for a seven-day road trip that includes the Holy Trinity of national parks — Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon.
I joined the tour for the first three days to get a taste of a scheduled bike trip. I have bicycled solo across the country twice and have created urban restaurant bicycle tours in Tampa, Fla., but I wanted to see what it was like to pedal on an organized commercial tour.
I have been meaning to explore Southern Utah’s amazing landscape of high country and red rock formations, and Escape Adventures proved to offer the right balance of tour guidance and bicyclist autonomy.
My two guides were a can-do pair of twentysomethings whose love for bicycling came through in an enthusiastic and caring fashion. Merrick Golz, 27, and Zephyr Sylvester, 23, led rides, cooked three unbelievable meals a day and struck the right balance of advising guests in a friendly manner without talking down them. Both are avid mountain bicyclists with strong road cycling skills.
Golz and Sylvester formed a great team, making sure tires were properly inflated and gently reminding us to stay hydrated while doling out anecdotal tips on the road conditions and elevation changes.
The duo prepared meals ranging from French toast in the mornings to homemade pizzas complete with peppers and cilantro at lunch and appetizers and tasty dinners at night, including a splendid grilled salmon on the tour’s first evening.
During our rides, Golz and Sylvester each took turns cycling with the three of us — I joined Nancy and Elizabeth on the daily rides in Southern Utah — while the other drove the Escape Adventures van and trailer.
Escape Adventures offers two options for biking guests to launch a tour. In this case, Nancy met the Escape Adventures crew at The Element boutique motel next to the Las Vegas Cyclery bike shop for the trip to St. George, where they rendezvoused with Elizabeth and myself at The Crystal Inn off Interstate 15.
While Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion are the Big Three of national parks within a day’s ride of Las Vegas, there are other noteworthy scenic stops along the way.
The first day was a case in point. From St. George, we drove to Cedar Breaks, an 81-year-old national monument that offers a spectacular natural rock amphitheater at more than 10,000 feet.
We lunched on turkey sandwiches and soft apple cookies before we hopped on our bicycles for a 5-mile ride in the hilly terrain around Cedar Breaks, then we took a right turn for a 15-mile descent to Panguitch Lake campground in the Dixie National Forest.
The descent was amazing as I hit 50 mph thanks to the slope and tailwinds.
Elizabeth, Nancy and I joined Sylvester for a casual 9-mile bike ride around Panguitch Lake, where vacation homes dot the gentle rolling hills lining the lake.
Sylvester, who started on the job in May 2013, said he enjoys meeting the array of guests such as Nancy and Elizabeth. Both enjoy road cycling, with Elizabeth cranking up the hills and Nancy going slower with her two trusty Nikon point-and-shoot cameras at her side.
“I meet so many cool people from every field,” said Sylvester, who grew up in Vermont and attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash.
The first day was an easy 27 miles — and it was a pleasant start to the tour to see spectacular Cedar Breaks, which tends to get overshadowed by the higher-profile canyons such as Bryce and Zion in Southern Utah.
After zipping down from 10,400 feet at Cedar Breaks to 8,200 feet at Panguitch Lake, we cycled the second day from the National Forest campground to the quaint city of Panguitch, dropping about 1,700 feet.
I enjoyed the display of quilts down Panguitch’s main street as we pedaled through the quiet town and headed to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Before we arrived at Bryce Canyon, we pedaled through Red Canyon — a visual treat. We left the road and pedaled on a paved trail for about six miles through the aptly named Red Canyon.
After battling headwinds from Panguitch to Red Canyon on U.S. Highway 89, we turned on state Route 12 to pedal through Red Canyon to Bryce Canyon. It was mostly uphill to Bryce Canyon. The tour’s second day involved biking 47 miles.
For bicyclist tourists who would like to log more miles, Golz was happy to accommodate the request. For example, Elizabeth wanted to ride some more at Bryce Canyon, so she pedaled another 30 miles or so during the afternoon inside the park, while Nancy and I decided to hike down the loop Navajo Trail at Bryce Canyon. We all met up at our park camp spot around 5:30 p.m.
CORAL PINK SAND DUNES
My third and final day entailed trying to pedal from Bryce Canyon National Park to another underrated natural gem — Coral Pink Sands Dune State Park, some 72 miles away.
Biking back from Bryce Canyon to U.S. 89 was pleasant, as it was mostly downhill and meant another trip through gorgeous Red Canyon.
But when we turned left on the highway and headed north, we bucked ferocious 30 mph winds. The fierce winds eventually forced us to seek cover and a van ride to an alternative route, a side road miles down the road that took us back to 10,000 feet elevation and chances to see the lava rocks from ancient eruptions and get a glimpse of the headwaters of the Virgin River.
We stopped for lunch at Duck Creek at about 9,600 feet. Golz prepared two delicious pizzas and we carbed up for the rest of the afternoon of riding.
Between cycling from Bryce Canyon to U.S. 89 and then the second mountain segment, we logged 40 miles — not bad when you consider the nasty winds that forced us off U.S. 89.
We packed the bikes on the van roof and headed for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, where the windblown sand that formed the dunes made for some fun routes for ATVs.
END OF THE TOUR
The organized bicycle tour was a hit. The guides were helpful and terrific chefs, while offering accurate information about the various routes.
After the third day of riding, Golz drove me from Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park to St. George, where my car was parked.
While I ended my mini-tour, Nancy and Elizabeth continued on to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim and Zion National Park, where the two hiked the park’s well-known Narrows. In Springdale outside Zion’s entrance, the tourists stayed in an inn overnight — the only night the two were not camping out during the tour.
Escape Adventures is featuring another road bicycle tour this summer in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and offers various mountain bike tours in North Dakota, Utah and Washington during the next few months.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at 702-387-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.